What it felt like to revisit a sanctuary that I have grown to love
When I heard that the Rox was reopening and the heavenly oasis that is Hyatt Regency Kathmandu is tentatively opening it’s doors to the outer world, I was elated. Having not stepped out of the house to eat with friends, and trying out the staple and the weird, by myself over the past few months, I was finally ready for a good dining experience. All the previous forays at the Rox have been memorable. And, it is not just the food, but the warmth that the people exude every time I was extended a kind invite, made the experience special. So, when Mohini Shrestha, Marketing and Communications Manager, reached out to me I confirmed immediately. I wanted to see first-hand how one of my favorite places in the city looked like after several months of inactivity and whether or not the place and the people had undergone any transformation.
The Entry and the Safety Protocols
As I was traveling to the hotel in a taxi I was thinking how a place that prided itself on immaculate and personalized service, closeness, and warmth would look like in a ‘fearful and sanitized world’. The elegant courtyard that is reminiscent of a charming palace was empty except for the outdoor security personnel clothed and geared appropriately. It felt great to be back, and I was wishing that the inner sanctum – the marvelous architecture and décor were brimming with life and the sounds of soft music that is such a welcome feature of the Hotel. One of the Crowning Jewels of this massive property – that’s what I like to call The Rox – was open and a hostess stood at the entrance in protective gear and mask. Her charming smile that was half-hidden immediately put me at ease. It was also good to see all the safety protocols including written instructions alongside welcome note, an automated sanitizer stand, and extra masks (in case the guests have forgotten to bring theirs) in place. Duly following the necessary, I stepped into the restauant that I have known dearly over the past few years. The immediate rush of emotions that enveloped me felt great, as I made my way along with the ever-attentive and kind Ms. Shrestha, who had very kindly come out to receive me.
The Look and Feel
Rox looked beautiful as always, dressed up in its glory, shining like a queen ready to receive her guests. If I half-expected that it would look and feel any different, it didn’t. The charm, the beauty of the place had almost magnified – I would like to assume because of the long gap after which I was visiting. The staff was as welcoming and polite, looking great in their smart uniforms and their protective masks and gloves on. The restaurant was neatly laid out and the familiar feel was reassuring. The one change that I noticed was the absence of the matching table cloths – Ms. Shrestha explained that they have been purposefully removed as a safety precaution – I actually brushed my hand on one of the tables and felt the wood – I had never done that before. I was told that every bit of the restaurant is sanitized multiple times a day, with or without the inflow of guests, just to make sure. These small touches, I assume, make a brand what it is – about me being safe, I wasn’t in any doubt.
The Seating and the Meal Order
One of my favorite places to sit at when I am at the Rox is the outside balcony. The night was a full moon one and the interplay of light and shade cast an almost magical spell on the property. The silence of the evening was complimented by attentive staff that greeted us warmly at the table. I was asked if I wanted an ‘immunity booster’ welcome drink – the besar (turmeric) water with ginger, lemon juice, and black pepper was refreshing and served in a shot-glass. I liked it so much that I ordered a second. Although there was a physical menu kept at the table, Ms. Sherstha who graciously sat with my friend and I throughout the evening, showed us how we could place our orders through the hotel menu application. This is a framework developed for Hyatt properties worldwide that boasts a ‘contactless-dining environment’ based on a downloadable QR code and a scan-and-order mechanism.
While Ms. Shrestha was demonstrating the mechanism I struck up a conversation with Shamsher Thapa, our waiting staff of the evening. Mr. Thapa told me how the staff is called in shifts to the hotel and that every staff is now trained on following a strict routine of hygiene and safety, and contactless service. All staff is temperature-checked, head to the laundry to dispose their walk-in clothes, take a shower, put on uniform, and then start their work day. I learned that there are three categories of staff in place – one that is appointed for providing safe service for guests, a clearance crew, and a sanitization team. There is also a policy of sanitization every 20 minutes – a bell sounds and all staff sanitize themselves well before continuing. I was reassured that I was in one of the safest environments that I could be in, in the city. We placed our faith in him and asked him to order what he wanted us to have.
After we placed our orders I couldn’t resist myself but go to the open kitchen and observe the usual efficiency that is displayed by the superbly trained staff. I noticed there were fewer people inside the kitchen area than the usual and safety precautions were in place. All were wearing masks and gloves and were not close to each other, even while working. I asked a couple of random staff and they said, “It did take time to get used to at the beginning, but now this is routine and a part of our work life.” The kitchen space had come alive with the hectic preparation and machine-like efficiency that accompanies every order. I have had the chance to observe the trained staff before too and it was such a welcome sight to see little had changed here, although the world and the tourism industry that we knew, were crumbling. There were a couple of other tables that had guests and orders were being plated at regular intervals.
A pre-practiced sequence of events unfolded in front of my eyes – meal prep, fresh vegetables, meat, ancillary ingredients, the soundless swish of the kitchen blades, the clanking of pots, the ovens coming to life, the flames and the familiar smells that still found the faintest of ways through the protective mask, to the final plating – the all familiar Hyatt touch.
I meet the Chef de Cuisine
The boss of the kitchen that evening was Bhanubhakta Aryal, who has been with the property since the pre-opening, two decades ago. Chef Aryal said how he and the entire team have adapted to the new normal – “the mask had practical difficulties initially; you know at the kitchen we need to taste, and then there are people with glasses. But we have fumbled and learned and now everything is as smooth as clockwork.” He said how the photo-shoot and trials had started a few days prior to opening, 25 September. Role plays were carried out to ensure that everyone knew exactly what to do on the 25th and after. Temperature check, walk-ins, cutlery, food prep, cutlery, service – during and post-meal, sanitization of used setup – everything was rehearsed well.
Chef Aryal also talked about how the receivables are cleaned and sanitized in the receiving area and then brought to the kitchen in clean baskets. All crockery and cooking utensils are also sanitized using specialized chemicals and cleaned thoroughly. The tables and chairs, along with the cushions are sprayed with cleaning chemical and air-dried after guest usage. The staff wear colour-coded uniform for serving and clearance, so that there is no confusion at any point of the work day. “Safety has assumed topmost priority for us here, and I am proud how the team has taken this up,” said Aryal.
I decided to order what Mr. Thapa recommended for the evening – a meal that was a perfect showcase of the variety that the Rox kitchen boasts. Tempted by the new-found health freak in me I loved the Detox Salad that had beans, broccoli, cucumber, quinoa, and came with savory chips. The roasted eggplant with beetroot tartar that came with toasted buckwheat and turmeric chips was a winner for me. The combo worked really well on the tastebuds and I wanted more. The spicy salmon tempura with picked ginger soy sauce and wasabi tasted okay and I was left wondering if it could have been a tad bit better. The fish tasted delicious though. The barbeque pizza was great, with toppings of chicken, tomato, fresh mozzarella (a variety of cheese I adore), onion, oregano, with drizzles of barbeque sauce. The end of the meal couldn’t have been better – the murgh tikka makhani served with garlic naan (soft, thin Indian bread that is cooked in the tandoor) won my heart. The meat was tender and the tomato-base gravy was a fantastic accompaniment to the naan.
The evening couldn’t have been more pleasant. In between all the observing and talking, I was actually happy to be amidst the familiar. Nothing has changed. Yes, we are scared of people and environments than before and should take precautions while heading to eat out. But, when one goes back to a setup that has been providing exemplary hospitality for the last two decades, and sees in person what I witnessed that evening, it just lends a sense of assurance that every guest will be well taken care of. And, that’s a promise that places you in comfort. And then, you can enjoy what you wanted to in the first place – personalized service, hospitality, warmth, great food and beverages – all in the safe sanctuary of a professional, safe environment that is backed by the legendary Hyatt promise, where all guests are treated with care and commitment to service excellence.
As I bade goodbye for the evening, I carried pleasant memories in my heart. The staff joined their hands in a warm farewell and one came up to me and handed over a box of the wonderful house-made pralines. They remembered that I liked them initially. That is what legendary hospitality is made of, the little touches that make an evening super special.